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When Too Much Photography Gets in the Way of Taking Good Pictures

When Too Much Photography Gets in the Way of Taking Good Pictures

I really wanted to do a review of the Canon EF-M. Unfortunately, that was never meant to be. As fate would have it, the vertical shutter on my two examples kept on getting stuck. Because of that, I was forced to repurpose my photowalk with Judit - which shouldn't have been a problem. But then, I didn't bring along any newsworthy backup gear. Frankly, I should have postponed this photowalk. However, this was Judit's last day in Hong Kong.

In life, there are times when maximizing every photo opportunity isn't necessary. Sometimes the situation calls for greater restraint. To most photo enthusiasts, this advice may seem subversive. But, take it from me. Usually, a little less focus in reaching one's self imposed objectives can be a healthier mindset. You see, when one obsesses too much in capturing the perfect picture, one might miss out on something more important - which is the bigger picture.

From the perspective of a photo enthusiast, we often forget about why we take pictures in the first place. As much as we think it's about capturing the moment, it's never really about that. In truth, capturing the moment is only secondary to what's actually the point. To some, this may not be obvious, but what's more important in the documentary process is for one to be a part of that moment. Only in doing that would the resulting image capture be meaningful.

Scenes of a botched photoshoot. One of two Canon E-FM cameras with faulty shutter travel.

This one was adapted to the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R.

A closer up photo.

A placeholder to meet my requisite six photos per visual stanza.

Burned the left wall with the gradient tool to give it some volume for the sake of artificially creating balance in the photo. Again, yet another placeholder.

Judit picking up the tab. 

This isn't something that many of us think about during the heat of the decisive moment. We think about practicing proper photographic form and technique. We think about composition. And we think about our proficiency in relentlessly doing what's difficult to document. We think about all these practical considerations, because we value the outcome of what we can do. After all, many do regard their efforts in capturing perfect photos as visual trophies.

But in doing so, we remove ourselves from fully experiencing the moment which we trouble ourselves to capture. When you look at how we do that - with our gaze from behind the frame lines - it often makes you wonder. Why would we rob ourselves the opportunity from living the experience that we're trying to document? When we become so focused in optimizing the decisive moment, we fall into a trap, which prevents us from appreciating what we're capturing.

It is much to our detriment when we reduce everything we see to nothing more than just a series of possible photo opportunities. Beyond the narrow focus from behind the viewfinder, we lose touch with all our other senses. The smell in the air, the sounds surrounding us, and even the tastes and feel of the moment - all that becomes lost to us. And when that happens, all that is left of the image capture is the image capture at face value.

Creating a narrative for the botched Canon E-FM review.

Posing with the Canon E-FM.

Following Judit around, since I have no sense of direction.

Walking through an open air food stall... because... my predilection to capture visual clutter in the background.

Burned the left side with the gradient tool to push the seated figure in the foreground into the background, for the sake of bringing Judit out into the foreground. Again, yet another placeholder.

Goofing around with fill flash.

To be fair, there's no rule telling anyone to live the moment before each shutter click. It's not as if every photographer is required to do anything beyond taking pictures. For the most part, the act of documentation is still just a means to an end. And the more we focus on taking good photos, the more likely our efforts will result in better photos. So logically, it's worth it to go the distance to reach that end - even it it means missing out on the moment.

But how empty the photo will be when one isn't personally invested in being a part of the moment. At best, the image capture can only skim the surface of a deeper visual narrative still waiting to be revealed. Invariably, the content in-frame will appear once removed, akin to a second hand retelling. Because of that, this makes the image capture feel disingenuous in intent and superficial in presentation. 

No amount of proficiency will overcome the absence of personal investment. Authenticity of photographic authorship comes from the photographer's exposure to the moment. And when exposure is kept at arms length, out of a misguided sense to optimize documentation, the impact of the visual narrative will be watered down. If one really isn't involved in the moment, what hope is there for the resulting image capture to be anything but impersonal and disconnected?

Judit wanted a picture of herself with this mural.

An opportunistic shot which I tried to perfect in many subsequent attempts. However, it was this first opportunistic shot that looked the best, since it wasn't staged.

Taking a load of our feet.

Again, another predilection - this time - staircases.

Judit looking for mail.

Placeholder for six.

Still, is it so wrong not to surrender one's self to the moment? Would exercising greater restraint really make an image capture seem less complete - even if its skillfully produced with technical and compositional proficiency? I mean, working photographers do it all the time, producing work that exhibit little to no personal investment in living the moment. But then again, the bulk of us aren't commissioned to work for others when we're taking photos.

And that's the point. We're not working. Photography isn't work when practiced as a recreational activity. As such, it's not about getting the money shot. It's not about reaching arbitrary targets and quotas. It's about providing supplementary documentation for those moment you want to remember. In that way, a picture is a visual bookmark that brings back memories of more than just the content of a decisive moment - assuming the moment was ever experienced.

So if you go around documenting without ever stopping to smell the roses, you're never going to see the bigger picture. You see, it's not about taking the perfect photo of a sunrise, or freezing an athlete in motion, or even documenting proof of pilgrimage of your trip abroad. It's about living and experiencing the moment. And if you do, seeing photos of it will bring you back to more than just what's seen in frame, but also everything else that happened along the way.

Quick opportunistic shot. 

Walking to public seating, to figure out what to do next.

Talking about Judit's move to Singapore... and figuring out what to do next.

On our way to the tram. Time for Judit to pack.

Waiting for the tram.

I shouted "hey, look over"!

Sometimes, too much photography can get in the way of taking good pictures. My advice is to slow down your process and learn to live in the moment... interact with your surrounding... and really be a part of it. Don't just limit yourself to being an observer. Only when you experience the world around you would the resulting image capture come to life. Personally, I believe it's what separates good pictures from everything else.

Trust me, it won't kill you to put your camera aside to live in the moment. In fact, it can be quite refreshing when you no longer have to think about results. If nothing else, the pressure to get the perfect photo won't be weighing on you as much anymore. That means you can once again enjoy the process of taking photos as oppose to holding off on enjoying your efforts - since that would depend on whether the results of the day’s catch in photos turned out well.

Needless to say, I'm relieved my priorities are not clouded by getting results. If it were, I wouldn't have squeezed out one last day with a fellow contributor leaving Hong Kong. The thing is, the photos I took weren't particular unique in the overall scheme of things. But that doesn't matter. In the end, it's a part of my memories. And posting it up now three months later brings me back to not just what's seen in frame, but everything else that happened along the way.

My first time on a tram in Hong Kong.

Me, shooting blindly while seated next to Judit.

Moving up to the front of the tram... because... it's just better in front.

Placeholder again. I asked Judit to pose. None of it turned out well, because it looked so unnatural... plus I was getting tired.

Back down to the lower level of the tram, waiting for it to stop.

Judit taking our her Octopus Card to pay for the the fare. 

All images shot on the Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH version I. A handful of images have been edited on Lightroom. 

I regret of taking a long extended break from this blog. But good news, I've back on the job. More nonsense to come.

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